Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Saki was known for his satiric wit and his adroit dialogue, which perfectly reveals characters typical of the Edwardian social setting of his stories. His characters are very often eccentric bores and colossal liars, types that can be found in his other stories, such as “A Defensive Diamond” and “The Strategist.”
The meaning of “The Open Window” depends on the narrator’s final statement about Vera: “Romance at short notice was her specialty.” The story is little more than a practical joke played by Vera on the susceptible Framton Nuttel, a champion bore and a character-type familiar to readers of Saki. After a very short conversation with him, Mrs. Sappleton quickly reads the character of Mr. Nuttel as a “most extraordinary man” who “could only talk about his illnesses.”
The reader, too, is quickly bored with Framton Nuttel, a weakling who thinks only of his health and has no topic of conversation other than his nervous disorder and the opinions of his doctors. Vera, the fifteen-year-old niece who greets him on his arrival at the Sappleton house, is a surprisingly perceptive girl. She is able to read the man’s character accurately as that of a gullible hypochondriac and proceeds to fabricate the absurd story of her aunt’s “great tragedy” for her own amusement. The deception is almost forgivable because Mr. Nuttel is such a boring person, but the deception is also cruel, and the man’s terrified response to what he thinks must be a supernatural visitation is pathetic—there is no sympathy here for the weak. Mr. Nuttel is out of his league when confronted by Vera.
The story, then, centers on an ironic deception that transforms momentarily the ordinary into what seems to be the supernatural, then snaps the circumstances back into reality through the clever use of irony. Vera is a typical Saki character type, related to the tall-tale tellers and liars of his other stories, just as Mr. Nuttel is a deserving dupe.